The Ohio Supreme Court will consider a lawsuit against the University of Notre Dame and the NCAA for failing to protect a former player from brain injuries during his college career.
Steven T. Schmitz, a former running back and receiver, played for the Fighting Irish from 1974 to 1978.
Schmitz and his wife Yvette filed suit in October 2014 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, less than two years after the Cleveland Clinic diagnosed him with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease found in people with a history of repetitive hits to the head.
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Suffering from severe memory loss, cognitive decline, dementia and early onset Alzheimer’s disease, Schmitz died in February 2015.
The Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court ruled that the Schmitzes waited too long to file the case but the 8th District Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The university and National Collegiate Athletic Association are appealing to the state supreme court, which will hear oral arguments in the case on April 11.
The Schmitz case marks the first time the Ohio Supreme Court will wade into the issues of CTE, which have gained national attention through the media, research reports, high-profile deaths and even a movie starring Will Smith.
The Schmitzes allege in the lawsuit that Notre Dame and the NCAA failed to notify, educate and protect Schmitz and other players about the debilitating long-term dangers of concussions and impacts that come with collegiate football.
Notre Dame and the NCAA argue in court filings that the deadline for Schmitzes to file lawsuits ended years ago. The timing of when a civil case must be filed to meet Ohio’s statute of limitations depends on whether CTE is considered a latent disease or a latent effect of an injury.
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The 8th District Court of Appeals determined that the statute of limitations period didn’t start until December 2012, when Schmitz said he was first diagnosed with CTE.
Attorneys for the university and NCAA say that decision was wrong. They argue that Schmitz knew or should have known by at least 2010 — when the NCAA publicly issued a policy that universities had to have concussion management plans — of the alleged correlation between his injuries and playing football.